Workplace Solutions Arc flash Protective clothing

New protective clothing regulations

What are the implications of the new OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269 regulation?

Responding is Keith Baker, product trainer and analyst in the marketing department of MCR Safety, Collierville, TN.

Kaboom! Then all fell silent. John Doe was called on by his employer to investigate reported electrical problems in the back of the company’s warehouse. John removed the cover of an electrical panel that contained a faulty circuit breaker, but a 7-inch metal tool fell into the energized electrical panel, causing a short circuit. The arc flash that occurred not only knocked John to the floor unconscious, but ignited his untreated cotton shirt and jeans, leaving him with third-degree burns on his face, arms, chest and legs. John Doe survived this incident but would require multiple skin grafts and surgeries over the coming months and years. If only he had received the correct training and had been wearing proper flame-resistant clothing.

According to the Workplace Safety Awareness Council, an arc flash is a phenomenon in which a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground. The results are often violent and, when a worker is in close proximity to the arc flash, serious injury or even death may occur. Causes can range from an overabundance of dust, falling tools or faulty installations.

Education is key to prevention. The more education that employers and employees have about this phenomenon and the proper way of protecting themselves from it, the more lives that will be saved. One of the most well-known methods of keeping electrical workers safe is adherence to 29 CFR 1910.269. Commonly called OSHA 1910.269, this federal regulation outlines and defines safety practices for those working in electric power generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. Previously written in 1972, this “40-something”-year-old regulation had become outdated and inconsistent with the general industry. As a result, OSHA revised the regulation, announced the final rule on April 1, 2014, and published it in the Federal Register on April 11, 2014.

So, what are the implications of the new OSHA 1910.269? Let’s revisit the case of John Doe. If he had been wearing proper FR clothing, his burns would have been lessened or non-existent. So, what must an employer do to protect workers from flames and electrical arcs? New language in the regulation requires employers to do the following:

  • Assess the workplace for flame and electrical hazards (paragraph (I)(8)).
  • Estimate the available heat energy from electrical arcs to which employees would be exposed. Ensure employees wear clothing that will not melt, ignite and continue to burn when exposed to flame or the estimated heat energy.
  • Ensure employees wear flame-resistant clothing and protective equipment that has an arc rating greater or equal to the available heat energy. Flame-resistant clothing is defined as clothing that is inherently flame-resistant and clothing that is chemically treated with a flame retardant. (See ASTM F1506-10A.)

Other measures employers must take include adopting ongoing processes of training for each employee who is exposed to the hazards of flames or electrical arcs. The level of training is to be determined by the risk to the worker for the hazard involved. Workers must be trained to realize and control or avoid hazards present at their tasks.

When must employers comply with this new regulation? These are compliance dates as printed that are effective this month:

  • April 1 – Employers must ensure the outer layer of clothing worn by an employee is flame-resistant when estimated incident heat energy exceeds 2.0 cal/cm².
  • April 1 – The employer must ensure employees with exposure to electric arc hazards wear protective clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating greater than or equal to the estimated heat energy whenever it exceeds 2.0 cal/cm². Until August 31, 2015, no citations will be issued under 29 CFR 1910.269 or CFR 1926.960 because an employer failed to provide protective clothing or equipment rated higher than 8 cal/cm².

OSHA estimates the updated regulations will prevent approximately 20 fatalities and 118 workplace injuries each year. Employers can reduce injuries and promote a better safety culture by implementing the guidelines of the new OSHA 1910.269. View the entire regulation.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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